Restricting purchase locations and pricing options for drugs

2011-05-26

in Law, Politics, Rants, Science

When it comes to recreational drugs, the objective of policy should be to prevent suffering while respecting the sovereignty individuals possess over their own bodies and minds. Our current approaches do not do that. Rather, they seem designed to either raise money or punish people. Neither of those objectives really serves the objective of reducing harm.

If you really want to restrict problematic usage of a drug, here are a couple of ideas for things you could do:

  • Restrict where it can be used to exclude desirable places like restaurants. For really dangerous drugs, restrict their use to medically supervised settings like InSite, Vancouver’s safe injection site for heroin.
  • Make selling them unprofitable. Do this by making the drug legal to sell, but illegal to profit from. You need to sell it for exactly the price you bought it for, and there are government stores like the LCBO that sell it for a low set price. This would eliminate any profit from producing or importing drugs, as well as eliminate criminal distribution networks for them with money flowing up and inward while drugs flow out and downward.

Imagine if convenience stores could only sell tobacco at cost. There would be no incentive to carry it, except perhaps the hope that customers who come in for tobacco will buy something with a mark-up on it as well. Requiring restaurants to sell alcohol at cost would hugely change the incentives they face. Right now, restaurants make so many profits from alcohol that the owners and servers both have a strong financial incentive to encourage people to drink. If they had to sell alcoholic beverages at cost, fewer restaurants would choose to be licensed and they would push alcohol on customers less. Given that alcohol is one of the most harmful drugs, that would have significant societal benefits.

Of course, there would be enormous resistance to any such policy. Restaurants and convenience stores want to hang onto their alcohol and tobacco profits, just as various organized crime groups want to hang on to profits from marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, etc. Still, society may well be better off in a world where drug policy seeks to encourage responsible use (which may mean no use at all) while simultaneously working to reduce the harm caused within society by drugs.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan May 26, 2011 at 8:58 am

The above is meant to provoke discussion, not to serve as a fully-thought-through proposal.

Tristan May 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm

It’s a very interesting idea. There is something perverse about allowing firms to profit off the sale of products which are or can be addictive.

Milan May 26, 2011 at 10:54 pm

It’s especially perverse that casinos are allowed to sell (and even give away) alcohol.

Statistics and money-related decisions can be challenging sober. Alcohol certainly doesn’t help, and casinos are really in a position to profit from that.

. May 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm

The moralistic myth of the ‘demon drink’

The UK government’s list of nine types of heavy drinker is based less on scientific research than puritan zeal.

Do you drink to ‘unwind and calm down and to gain a sense of control when switching between work and personal life’? Perhaps your preferred way to ‘reconnect with old friends’ is to meet up in a pub. Maybe you drink in ‘fairly large social friendship groups’ and find a ‘sense of community’ in your local pub, or perhaps you don’t go out, and just drink at the end of the day when all your chores are done.

If any of this applies to you, and if you’re over 35, you’ll soon be targeted by a UK government health campaign, which, according to public health minister Dawn Primarolo, will help people ‘understand the effects of their drinking habits and help them make changes for the better’.

Underlying this forthcoming campaign is new research by the Department of Health (DoH) which has defined nine personality types of ‘heavy drinkers’, that is, men who drink over 50 units of alcohol a week, and women who drink over 35 units a week. These types not only include ‘depressed drinkers’ and ‘border dependents’, which might well indicate potentially serious alcohol-related psychological problems, but ‘de-stress drinkers’, ‘re-bonding drinkers’, ‘community drinkers’, ‘conformist drinkers’, ‘macho drinkers’, ‘boredom drinkers’ and ‘hedonistic drinkers’. The DoH hopes to use this segmentation to, in the words of one report, ‘tailor its propaganda to suit all the target personalities’ (1).

. September 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm

“Using heroin to treat heroin addicts

Until the 1960s, the ‘British model’ of managing heroin addiction, used in the UK, was for addicts to be registered with doctors and prescribed heroin itself. This is still sometimes seen as the best approach, and has made a comeback in recent years in Switzerland. Users are given a high-quality heroin which they inject with clean needles under medical supervision. There are signs that medicalising the whole experience has reduced some of the ‘rock star glamour’ of the drug and helped reduce its appeal among the young.”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.164 (paperback)

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